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SFN Physics Bookclub


Martin
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Let's have a (oneshot at least) BOOKCLUB

 

this is what a bookclub is:

http://www.book-club.co.nz/bookclubs/tips.htm

 

it says you need 5 or more people and you pick a book and all read it and discuss it.

 

I'm proposing for our first selection the book currently at the top of this bestseller list:

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/14560/ref=pd_ts_b_nav/102-4540543-7840144

 

which is Smolin The Trouble with Physics...and What Comes Next

 

I am especially interested in his discussion of what comes next, in section III "Beyond String Theory" which starts around page 200

 

It's an intelligently written book. Although it doesnt use equations it talks you through step by step to each conclusion. I know a good bit of the technical literature he is referring to. Somehow he makes it reader-friendly---gets the deep essential ideas across to the general audience.

 

I think it is an important book, that will be around 5 years from now and still influential. So I'm up for discussing it with whoever else has read the book.

 

Who here is interested. Anybody?

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Thanks ajb!

Manchester maths library ought definitely own a copy! Bug them until they order one!

 

BTW I should add, for more information about the book there is this site:

 

http://www.thetroublewithphysics.com/

 

and the site has a copy of the book's Table of Contents

(click the rightmost thing on the topbar menu, where it says "contents")

 

and it has a lot of reviews, including an interesting long argument at the cosmic variance blog, with numereous outraged string personages, this is a new kind of review, a pro/con blog battle!

click on reviews and you get a bunch of different ones. it can be interesting:-)

 

here is the TOC from the book's website:

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction vii

PART I: THE UNFINISHED REVOLUTION

1: The Five Great Problems in Theoretical Physics 1

2: The Beauty Myth 18

3: The World As Geometry 38

4: Unification Becomes a Science 54

5: From Unification to Superunification 66

6: Quantum Gravity: The Fork in the Road 80

PART II: A BRIEF HISTORY OF STRING THEORY

7: Preparing for a Revolution 101

8: The First Superstring Revolution 114

9: Revolution Number Two 129

10: A Theory of Anything 149

11: The Anthropic View 161

12: What String Theory Explains 177

PART III: BEYOND STRING THEORY

13: Surprises from the Real World 203

14: Building on Einstein 223

15: Physics After String Theory 238

PART IV: LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE

16: How Do You Fight Sociology? 261

17: What Is Science? 289

18: Seers and Craftspeople 306

19: How Science Really Works 332

20: What We Can Do for Science 349

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Yeah, great idea with the book club. Any particular date we should try and read it by, so we can discuss it?

 

Glad to have your company in this. I think we could start as soon as any two of us have each read enough of the book to have questions or be moved to talk about it!

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Martin, this is an excellent idea and I am amazed nobody has thought of it before.

 

I will see if there are any modules for VB that we can use to assist in such a scheme if you like.

 

that's a nice offer, Sayonara!

 

For starters, though, I would be inclined to make trial of it with as little extra stuff as possible----just have one thread devoted to talking about the book among those who have read all or some of it.

 

Your personal participation would be very welcome if you take an interest in such things.

 

We can't really say we have a 'bookclub' until we have had one successful thread talking about a book. It was more just a manner of speaking;)

 

Let's give it a try with no extra aids or publicity and see if we have any success.

 

BTW the book I'm proposing we start by discussing has a website here

http://www.thetroublewithphysics.com/

with TOC and some links to reviews

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Well, as I said in another thread I've ordered 'The Trouble with Physics' and I'm going to try and pick it up next week, if I get time. For the time being I bought 'Three Roads to Quantum Gravity', not sure if anybody has read or has any views on this (I'm going to read it regardless) and 'Wholeness and the Implicate Order' by David Bohm, which is clearly science/philosophy, and really for future reading, when I've finished my second year with the OU.

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Well, as I said in another thread I've ordered 'The Trouble with Physics' and I'm going to try and pick it up next week, if I get time. For the time being I bought 'Three Roads to Quantum Gravity', ...

 

Great! Snail, see if you can persuade me to read 'Three Roads to Quantum Gravity'.

 

I have heard good reports of it but have never read it. I've always assumed that I got adequate exposure to what Smolin has to say by following his technical writing. so I figured "3 roads" would either be superfluous or would tell me about stuff like string that I wasnt interested in.

 

but now, reading TwP, I see that there is a dimension to Smolin that doesnt come thru in the technical writing and that adds a lot----at least what i get from TwP adds a lot------his stories, interactions with others, experience of what it is like at leading edge, musings about the scientific enterprise, the human side, suspense adventure all that good stuff :)

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his stories, interactions with others, experience of what it is like at leading edge, musings about the scientific enterprise, the human side, suspense adventure all that good stuff :)

 

This is pretty much what I gathered from just reading the introduction, and he comes across very much an optimist with bags of humility, which I like. To wet you're appetite (or anyone else interested) here's a quote from the introduction that explains what Smolin means by a 'third road' and I'll give a list of chapters so you get a good idea of the content...

 

Apart from string theory and loop quantum gravity, there has always been a third road. This has been taken by people who discarded both relativity and quantum theory as being too flawed and incomplete to be proper starting points. Instead, these people wrestle with the fundamental principles and attempt to fashion the new theory directly from them. While they make reference to the older theories, these people are not afraid to invent whole new conceptual worlds and mathematical formalisms. Thus, unlike the other two paths. which are trodden by communities of people each large enough to exhibit the full spectrum of human group behaviour, this third path is followed by just a few individuals, each pursuing his or her own vision, each either a prophet or a fool, who prefers that essential uncertainty to the comfort of travelling with a crowd of like-minded seekers.

 

Part I Points of departure :

 

1. There is nothing outside the universe

2. In the future we shall know more

3. Many observers, not many worlds

4. The universe is made of processes, not things

 

Part II What we have learned :

 

5. Black holes and hidden regions

6. Acceleration and heat

7. Black holes are hot

8. Area and information

9. How to count space

10. Knots. links and kinks

11. The sound of space is a string

 

Part III The present frontiers

 

12. The holographic prinicple

13. How to weave a string

14. What chooses the laws of nature ?

 

Chapters 4 to 9 and chapter 12 appear from first observations as personal preferences, but I'll let you know when I've finished, and I'll see if I can persuade you with any of the ideas, musings or anecdotes...whilst not giving too much away.

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the people who expressed interest in discussing Trouble with Physics

in this thread were

ajb

sisyphus

anjruu

snail

myself

 

IIRC in another thread bascule, Locrian, and MacSwell also indicated interest

so we have halfdozen or more possible participants, I think that's plenty

 

we are waiting now until several people have the book and have read some in it.

 

BTW this recent book, TwP, does not assume you read the other book "Three Roads". I am inclined to stay away from "Three Roads" because it is old---2001----and the picture been changing in the QG field.

(Also string vital sign declined in the past 5 years.)

 

BTW as of 2:15 PM pacific time Saturday 23 September

 

1. Trouble with Physics #275

2. Road to Reality #1043

3. Elegant Universe #1095

4. Not Even Wrong #1215

5. Physics for Dummies #1530

6. 3000 solved physics problems #2005

7. Brief History of Time #2060

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I'd be down if the next book we read is Jeff Hawkins' On Intelligence, an arrogant albeit highly compelling take on neurophysiology.

 

fascinating Wiki article. he PREDICTS certain kinds of brain cells will be found. it is always interesting when somebody has some picture of reality that predicts stuff to look for-----"name cells"

 

BTW here we encounter an obstacle to having online "bookclubs".

how to decide what books to discuss?

 

maybe should we have two threads? my thread to talk TwP

your thread to talk On Intelligence

maybe someone else wants to start a thread about "Three Roads"?

 

It is hard to imagine a halfdozen people staying focused on one book.

case of parallel processing?

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On your recomendation Martin I ordered The Trouble With Physics yesterday from Amazon.com. I also picked up Not Even Wrong, partly on impulse. Looking forward to reading them.

 

It may take me a bit to get into them though. I'll do my best.

 

By the way, not long ago I finished the book True Genius, The Life and Times of John Bardeen. It was amazing. Just a thought for the future ;)

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On your recomendation Martin I ordered The Trouble With Physics yesterday from Amazon.com.

 

Great! I will be looking forward to comparing our impressions of the book, at your convenience.

 

By the way, not long ago I finished the book True Genius, The Life and Times of John Bardeen. It was amazing. Just a thought for the future ;)

 

looking ahead, just in case:

here is some preliminary stuff about Bardeen and that book

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bardeen

 

two Nobel prizes in physics (only person so far)

one for the transistor, one for understanding superconductivity

this has to be an amazing guy

 

http://www.amazon.com/True-Genius-Science-Bardeen-Physics/dp/0309095115/ref=ed_oe_p/103-6432418-0205431?ie=UTF8

 

BTW a friend of my wife's family was John Woodyard and we often used to visit with them, he was quite a character. He invented the transistor in the 1940s while working for Sperry Gyroscope on radar. used to go in at night and use the ovens to cook his semiconductors and the guys in the morning would find them contaminated. he couldnt resist working on his invention nights even though there was a war project underway days.

 

His patents on the transistor were sustained in court against the Bell Labs or whatever. but one seldom hears. He was an Electrical Engineer (not so much theory as mental independence and practical smart intuition). Not in the same class as Bardeen, but a wonderful man.

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I just wanted to say I completely support the idea, awsome notion, Martin!!! I'll definately get that book at some point, unfortunately, I have a list I have to read first for college (bah) so I probably won't be able to actively join this.

 

Good idea, though :D

 

BTW, I =did= order Dawkin's "The God Delusion", and its supposed to come over sometime during the week. Perhaps it can be our next bookclub? be a lot easier for me to have book i actually already baughed :P how selfish of me heehee ;)

 

 

~moo

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fascinating Wiki article. he PREDICTS certain kinds of brain cells will be found. it is always interesting when somebody has some picture of reality that predicts stuff to look for-----"name cells"

 

He makes a number of different predictions about cortical structure and operation, and also predicts what may or may not be there that's coincidental to the underlying function.

 

Perhaps the most compelling passage in the book is one where he compares GR to a neurophysiological discovery:

 

According to rumor, Albert Einstein once said that conceiving the theory of special relativity was straightforward, almost easy. It followed naturally from a single observation: that the speed of light is constant to all observers even if the observers are moving at different speeds.

 

[...]

 

There is an analogous discovery in neuroscience - a fact about the cortex that is so surprising that some neuroscientists refuse to believe it and most of the rest ignore it because they don't know what to make of it. But it is a fact of such importance that if you carefully and methodically explore its implications, it will unravel the secrets of what the neocortex does and how it works. In this case, the surprising discovery came from the basic anatomy of the cortex itself, but it took an unusually insightful mind to recognize it. That person was Vernon Mountcastle, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In 1978 he published a paper titled "An Organizing Principle for Cerebral Function." In this paper, Mountcastle points out that the neocortex is remarkably uniform in appearance and structure. The regions of cortex that handle auditory input look like the regions that handle touch, which look like the regions that control muscles, which look like Broca's language area, which look like practically every other region of the cortex. Mountcastle suggests that since these regions all look the same, perhaps they are actually performing the same basic operation! He proposes that the cortex uses the same computational tool to accomplish everything it does.

 

BTW here we encounter an obstacle to having online "bookclubs". how to decide what books to discuss?

 

That's definitely a problem. To me there's nothing in the world more fascinating than how the mind and brain work, but I suspect very few people actually feel that way.

 

maybe should we have two threads? my thread to talk TwP

your thread to talk On Intelligence

 

Well, that provided anyone else cares about On Intelligence. The Trouble with Physics at least has the distinction of being a highly popular book, to the point that I'm seeing ads for it (and lectures Smolin is giving about it) in SEED. I can thus see TwP of garnering considerably more interest.

 

I also notice that when I posed about On Intelligence (mainly because that's what I'm currently reading) I didn't notice you wanted to start a Physics Bookclub. I'm not sure how many other books we could really discuss. There are a number I've read targeted at laymen, including A. Zee's Fearful Symmetry, David Deutsch's The Fabric of Reality, Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe and Fabric of the Cosmos, Martin J. Rees' Just Six Numbers, okay, well, come to think of it there are a number of these books out there... the real problem is when they're targeted for a layman audience the layman often has trouble telling the science from the speculation. I've since read there's been a lot of criticism of Just Six Numbers, for example.

 

maybe someone else wants to start a thread about "Three Roads"?

 

It seems like there's enough people (2) who've read Three Roads to at least have a discussion.

 

It is hard to imagine a halfdozen people staying focused on one book.

case of parallel processing?

 

Well, in general, you assign reading tasks over specific periods and then have discussions at the end of those periods. Once the discussion is over you assign another reading task. That way everyone is on the same page (literally!)

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It seems like there's enough people (2) who've read Three Roads to at least have a discussion.

 

I've had to have a small break from reading 'three roads' as I'm just finishing my last assignment to my current course. But I'll definitely be up for discussing anything once I've finished, which will probably be next week sometime...and I hasten to add, I won't post any discussion points after I've been to the pub, otherwise I'll have some hazy, muddled memory of what I read (see response to J.C Macswell.)

 

Martin, is it ok for anyone to ask questions about the content in what we've read...if, as with 'three roads' there's only a couple of people that have finished, or are ahead of others, it may broaden the discussion a little. Or is the 'book club' solely just for people that have read whichever book ?

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Hi Snail,

 

feel free.

if more people have read "3 roads" and are eager to discuss it, then this thread should be about "3 roads"

 

I can start a "bookclub" separate thread about the one I'm focusing on, when I think there might be people who have read substantial portions of it.

 

or maybe we can mix it all together in one thread! I don't know which way is best :)

never did this exact thing, so dont have a clue. I value your and bascule's and other people's interest and say go ahead, however seems best to you!

 

 

BTW I just heard a really top-notch 15 minute interview with Lee Smolin on Canadian radio

 

http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/media/2006-2007/mp3/qq-2006-09-23e.mp3

 

the interview was broadcast 23 September

it is remarkably clear and relaxed and easy to understand, best audio about the new book I've heard so far. kudos to that CBC interviewer

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